Today, the most covered song in history, Lennon-McCartney’s famous love song, ‘Yesterday’ turns 50 years old. Where has the time gone, and what impact did this raw, beautiful melody have on the musical and social structures of the 20th Century and even today?
When the single of ‘Yesterday’ was released on September 13, 1965, it is all but likely that The Beatles, Apple Records and indeed EMI would have totally, undeniably underestimated the success and significance of this one simple, four-chord pop song. Yesterday topped the American chat in 1965 after its’ release as both a single and on the album Help! in August and September of 1965.
What’s unique about this single is the complete and seismic departure of the group from the then-high energy, simple love songs associated with that of the Beatlemania period and the large stadium tours that the group embarked on in the early 1960s. However, here, the single is so melodic, yet so simple. McCartney’s lead vocal is accompanied with a solo acoustic guitar and a string quartet, written by producer, George Martin.
Yesterday was voted best song of the 20th Century by the BBC Radio in 1999, in the following year, Rolling Stone Magazine voted it the number one pop song of all time, the song has over 2500 known cover versions – a Guinness World Record. Paul McCartney’s elevated fame within The Beatles post-Yesterday is something also of note.
His soaring melodies, musical gifts, unique tone, vocal range and powerful singing ability cemented his position as “front man” of the group of “equals” – something which would escalate tensions between the revered Lennon-McCartney writing duo throughout the later years of The Beatles, however, the musical crediting combination of the two names still endures today.
“Yesterday” changed the landscape of pop music throughout both Britain and the United States. It proved to musicians that you certainly don’t need large production, orchestration or instrumentation to express raw musical connection, but it was only now that these heartfelt, stripped back love songs were gaining popular momentum within young audiences; ultimately paving the way for pivotal singer-songwriters to make their mark over the the rest of the 60s and 70s.
Happy 50th Birthday, Yesterday. Thank you for your contribution to the music industry. Your popularity, influence and generation-defining sound will never die.
Hats off, Lennon-McCartney.